Today we talk with Alba from Waddling in the Wild about her experience with WorkAway, volunteering in Europe, so you can decide whether it’s right for you!
Note: If you are looking to volunteer abroad, here is a super helpful and detailed WorkAway guide.
What is WorkAway?
Workaway is a website that connects its members to volunteer options around the world. Most exchanges or opportunities will ask for 4-5 hours of work per day in exchange for accommodation and food. Some hosts may give a paid allowance similar to the country’s minimum wage. You can sign up as a solo traveller, find a travel buddy who is also a member or sign up as a couple or small group of friends.
Volunteer positions vary but you can find jobs such as housekeeping, gardening, farming, animal care, youth outreach, teaching, cooking, childcare and helping with guesthouses.
Volunteering in Europe Interview
Welcome, tell us a bit about yourself and why you love to travel?
Hi! So it all started as a kid.
Before I was born, my mother started travelling as a travel agent. My dad was a social science teacher so he was very curious and loved travelling. They both thought travelling was great fun and also the best way for kids to learn, so I had been in four continents at the age of eleven, although my family was not rich at all (my mum did take advantage of the travel agent discounts she could get!).
As time went by, I started travelling by myself. I studied abroad to earn my undergrad degree in Translation and I discovered just how much I loved being away – abroad is where the magic happens!
Why did you decide to Volunteer abroad?
I do not come from a rich family and, during Uni, I was too busy to work. So, thinking about ways to spend some time abroad, volunteering came to my mind. I do not need much to live; I’m able to survive anywhere provided I have some food and a place to sleep. But there is more to it – I realised that volunteering would give me the chance to come in close contact with locals. Win-win.
Why Norway and Poland?
I had always wanted to see the Northern Lights –who doesn’t? –but I knew just how expensive Norway would be. I signed up for WorkAway and I applied to some projects, the most appealing one being a farm up the mountain from a fjord next to the most impressive sights in Norway. And they said yes!
I loved it, but after a month I started feeling it was too isolated for me, and travelling around was too expensive to be an option. There are many Poles in Norway and they spoke wonders about it so I decided to take a 10€ flight to Poland and see how it’d go.
How did you go about getting volunteer work in Europe?
It’s really easy! I just created a WorkAway account and sent some applications.
Were there any challenges to volunteering in Europe?
Well, I am European so I didn’t have to worry about getting visas and such. Plus, most people speak English. Overall, it was not challenging at all.
Were you able to save much money living in Europe?
I spent less than 200€ in two months of travelling, including flights, eating out, seeing the most beautiful fjord in Norway and the six most important Polish cities, some hostels and museum tickets… So yes, it was cheaper than actually renting an apartment and having a sedentary life for two months!
Did you get to travel much and if so, where is your favourite place to visit?
Not that much in Norway, although I did see the Geiranger Fjord (an amazing place and amazing views) because it was just around the corner from our farm and also Trollstiegen and the town of Alesund. The part of Norway we were in was just stunning. In Poland, I got to travel way more, as accommodation, food and transportation were way cheaper.
My favourite city turned out to be Wroclaw (loved the little gnomes around the streets!) and Poznan (a really cute place with an amazing underground culture going on), but I loved Gdansk and Krakow, fairy tale cities, and of course the Warsaw museums! I also took an overnight bus to Lviv, in Ukraine, which was really, really worth it.
What was a typical day like?
In Norway, we would wake up and have a big breakfast with the family and the other volunteers (there were six of us, all from different countries), where we would be told what our job would be for the day, ranging from picking up apples from the trees to hiking up the mountains to look for stray sheep. They were all fun jobs somehow, and it was good that it was something different almost every day! The afternoon would be free for us to relax, some volunteers liked to fish in the fjord or go hiking, for example. Then we’d get together again for dinner and relax all together at the family’s living room, where someone would play the guitar or we’d just speak, read or get online.
In Poland, we were helping at a language school. After waking up and having breakfast we would dive to a company or a kindergarten to give English lessons. We’d then have some free time to go for a walk or drive to the nearest city and, after lunch, people of all ages would come to the house to get lessons as well. After three to four hours, we’d be free to do whatever we wanted – cook some dinner, watch TV, play video games…
What are your best travel moments?
On the first day at the Norwegian farm we were told that the next day would be quite important as a famous Norwegian news reporter would come to visit the farm. We looked her up and we didn’t know her but it turns out she’s married to Kristofer Hivju, who plays Tormund in Game of Thrones. We were able to speak to him on our second day in Norway, which was kind of fun!
Later that same day, we would hike up the mountains to look for sheep and the scenery was the most beautiful I’d ever seen, all snowed up and just plain gorgeous. We were alone in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by breathtaking landscapes. I wouldn’t change that moment for the world.
What must-pack items would you recommend?
Well, at that time I was just glad I had brought some thermal clothing, both for Norway and Poland! I really wasn’t carrying much else, as I aimed to travel as light as possible (my backpack did not weigh more than six kilos, including a pair of ski pants!)
What advice would you give to others who want to work abroad?
If you really want to do it – DO IT! Think about the kind of work you’d like to do and then browse WorkAway or any other similar webpage, as you don’t need to register and pay to do that. Once you’ve found some places you like (some need childcare, others gardening, there are farms, hostels, language schools and even some families that just enjoy the company and will only ask for you to unload the dishwasher!), register and apply to some of them, see how it works out. Most people are used to hosting volunteers and will be nice and helpful, and it will give you a whole different perspective on that country!
There are plenty of work exchange opportunities no matter where in the world you want to explore, you just have to get searching!